Casino mega-merger in the hands of the techies

Casino CIOs talk about the challenges ahead of merger.

The CIO of Harrah's, now the world's largest casino business upon the completion of its $9.4bn acquisition of rival Caesars Entertainment, has talked exclusively to silicon.com about the colossal integration challenge ahead of him.

The merger has tripled the size of the Harrah's Entertainment empire in Las Vegas, adding Bally's, Caesars Palace, Flamingo and Paris to its own two properties on The Strip, Harrah's and Rio. It will also double the size of the businesses in customer numbers - bringing together 25 million names on Caesars' database and 27 million on Harrah's, albeit with some degree of crossover.

The casino industry has become among the most reliant upon technology in recent years meaning this merger throws up a colossal integration project.

Tim Stanley, CIO at Harrah's, told silicon.com: "It will take a lot of hard work but this is our sixth acquisition in little over six years. We've done it a number of times, albeit not on this scale, and we've learned from it each time."

On the other side of this merger, Carol Pride, CIO of Caesars Palace, was also confident about the task in hand when she spoke to silicon.com prior to the merger getting formal approval.

Pride told silicon.com: "We do have some common systems and there is a great deal of commonality. Based on my experience this is probably going to be an 18- to 24-month process."

Stanley said: "Although Caesars is right around the corner now in terms of timescale we're still integrating the Horseshoe deal."

That deal was signed last year, bringing Binion's Horseshoe into the Harrah's fold - an icon among Las Vegas casinos, currently playing host to the World Series of Poker.

"We have 14 properties in total to integrate and scale is certainly a challenge, as is how quickly we can do it across certain territories," added Stanley.

Among the biggest IT challenges will be integrating the networks of slot machines. The deal will give the combined company around 75,000 slot machines. Many of these are networked and increasingly Harrah's is looking at running video-screen machines as terminals fed from a central server, from which the games played on the screens can be switched in real time.

Each one of these slot machines has a card reader for loyalty club members and Caesars' Pride said "all those machines have to be touched", meaning each one will need to be serviced as the two loyalty card schemes are merged and the back-end CRM systems integrated.

"That takes 15 to 20 minutes per machine," she added. "It's not going to be done on day one," which Pride said had been the original, and in her opinion unrealistic, target of Accenture who is working on the integration.

A great deal of the integration challenge is tied up in those loyalty cards and the database, according to Stanley.

If a diamond card holder from Caesars loyalty scheme turns up at Harrah's then Stanley says it is imperative the system processes them and treats them as it would a Diamond card holder at Harrah's as quickly as possible.

Cross-selling and multi-property capability are also essential.

"How do we make sure we have systems in place to encourage our customers to visit multiple properties and still know what they are doing while they are there?"

He admits such a rhetorical question may sound "Big Brotherish" to some but he believes IT plays an integral part in ensuring customers enjoy their casino experience and also plays an integral part therefore in growing revenue.

Stanley said the margin for error regarding customer disenfranchisement is wafer thin with these concerns.

"The average person visits between five and seven casinos while they are in Vegas," said Stanley. "With the Caesars deal we're going to have six."

Silicon.com's Will Sturgeon reported from London.

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